While all of us crocheters think crochet is just magnificent, you might be surprised to find out that crochet and its popularity have something to do with royalty. In particular, one royal, Queen Victoria, who was the longest reigning British monarch until Queen Elizabeth II ousted the famous queen from particular claim to fame. Queen Victoria was a crocheter!
Crochet was considered something of an inferior craft in the nineteenth century, primarily because it was often sold as an alternative for more expensive lace pieces to adorn clothing with. The Irish popularized crochet lace pieces during the a time of famine, famously known as the potato famine. You might have heard of Irish crochet? This is where the term comes from, and Irish men, women and even children kept the Irish economy afloat through crochet work. But it the wealthy turned up their noses at the intricate, lovely and beautiful crochet lace work as they could afford to buy much more costly lace from Europe. However, when Queen Victoria bought some Irish crochet to support the Irish during a time of crisis, and began wearing it herself crochet began to take off. And Queen Victoria herself learned to crochet!
It’s funny to think of a queen doing something I do every day. Crocheting! Some of Victoria’s crochet still survives today. She made eight scarves for British officers during the Boer War/South African War. By this time however, Victoria was nearly blind and her daughter in law (later Queen Mary) had to help her when she dropped some stitches.
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Good Enough for a Royal
Because Queen Victoria wore the crochet lace made by starving Irish men and women, she popularized the craft enomorously. Suddenly, crochet pieces, which had been seen as middle class, were being worn by the wealthy, and setting a fashion trend. Crochet simply exploded and a panel of lace could be traded for favours from the wealthy or aristocracy. This makes my crocheters’ heart sing, because crochet is just so pretty and so versatile–why shouldn’t it have been good enough for the upper classes?
But what’s even more amazing is that Queen Victoria not only popularized crochet as fashionable, but as an acceptable craft, removing the stigma attached to the activity of making crochet. And she did this simply by learning to crochet herself. I love that a queen lifted a craft I love out of obscurity and bought it back into fashion for makers.
The Queen Also Knit
Queen Victoria loved both crochet and knitting, but apparently she wasn’t very skilled at knitting. That fact just tickles my funny bone because while in those days knitting was done for practical reasons as opposed to the reasons that prompt us to knit/crochet today, it’s obvious the queen liked to knit for reasons more similar to ours today–even though she wasn’t very good at it. In fact, she popularized both crafts because she herself embraced them. By the end of Victoria’s life, all young women were taught to knit regardless of their socioeconomic background, which wasn’t done before as knitting was something done for necessity and was a cottage craft.
Another reason I think it’s hilarious that Queen Victoria wasn’t very good at knitting is because I something feel there’s a bit of snobbery in the knit community towards the crochet craft. It seems funny that Victoria should be more adept at crochet than knit–to me anyway. Judging by the work I see in the photo of the scarf made by the queen, the stitches are correctly made and her tension is consistent. I can’t confirm for sure that she was better at crochet than knit; she is known to have knit even before her marriage and some of her knitting survives to this day as well, and is kept in a basket at Frogmore House, but if she was a better crocheter, I feel it’s something we crocheters have to laud over snobby knitters.
For the record, I do think the fibre craft community is becoming more united 🙂
The Queen’s Crochet Scarves
Queen Victoria did crochet eight scarves at the end of her life, which were to be awarded to distinguished officers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. You can see one of these scarves, awarded to Private R.R Thompson, in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. I was in Ottawa once, but next time I am there, I totally want to see this piece of crochet history for myself!
Other examples of her crochet scarves have survived as well, all most of which are in museums.
As you can see in the photo, the scarves Victoria made were chunky and made from brown yarn. They were prized by those who received them, who wore them like sashes, but they had no military significance attached to them like the Victoria Cross medal would.